How to play guitar chords
Learning how to play guitar chords is just one aspect of being a well-rounded guitarist but it’s often the most difficult challenge for a new player. Not only are there dozens and dozens of chords to learn but it requires learning how to manipulate your hand in often unintuitive and (at first) painful ways. This is where a lot of people give up on learning how to play the guitar. It can feel like they will never be able to create these shapes with their hands and move quickly between them on top of that. Luckily there are some simple steps and considerations to take when you are first learning how to play guitar chords.
Practice your chords perfectly
During your first practice sessions on chords, it will be important to learn them perfectly and slowly. Give yourself time to curl your fingers and push the tips of your fingers down on the strings to get as much sound from the instrument as you can. Once the chord shape is created pluck each string individually down until you run into one that’s not ringing out. Spend some time with that specific string as your pluck and adjust your fretting hand until it rings out.
Repeat this process for about 10 minutes or until everything is ringing out. Pick three different chords that you want to learn and don’t spend more than 10 minutes every day practicing like this. If there are still mistakes at the end of your practice session that’s totally normal, your brain and body will continue to process how it feels to play the guitar while you go about your day. You may even find that some issues with notes ringing out have been resolved on their own, so be patient with yourself.
Practice transitions imperfectly
Once you have established three chords that are somewhat ringing out it’s time to try to transition between chords. For this to work you need to shift your mindset that you will be making a lot of mistakes and that is okay. What I often see is students strumming one chord perfectly and then pausing to build their next chord perfectly before continuing to strum. This helpful practice but this type of only helps with playing the actual chords and not transition between the chords. To properly practice the transitions, establish a tempo at 60 beats per minute with your metronome or a slow tap with your foot will do fine. For each chord, (let’s use G, Cadd9, and D) strum down 4 times with the click or tap of your foot.
Once you reach that 4th strum you will begin to transition to the next chord, do not pause strumming here even if you do not make it to the next chord. Keep strumming at the same slow tempo while you build the next chord. Push yourself to get to that next chord faster even if your fingers are landing in the wrong spots, embrace the dissonance of the wrong notes as you calibrate your fingers to landing in the correct position. By continuing to strum and not pause to set your fingers up correctly you are practicing the transition between the chords rather than the chords themselves. Practice like this for about 10 minutes every day between two or three different chords. Again, your brain and body will process how this feels and your will naturally gain accuracy and speed.
They work together
Practicing your chords perfectly and transitions imperfectly is a way that you can bridge the gap between two guitar concepts in a way that is more functional then trying to be perfect. At some point your perfect chord practice and transition practice will result in clean strumming patterns with full bodied chords that can be applied to any song you would like to learn. When working in this way it’s important to be conscious of what type of practice you are doing and why because you don’t want to learn anything incorrectly. Slow down your tempo or go back and practice your chords perfectly if you aren’t landing anywhere near your next chord when doing transitions. If at any point you’re finding yourself frustrated by this process, take a break and come back to it later, learning how to play guitar chords is about practicing smarter, not harder.
Guitarist and Composer